It’s not widely known that Marine Corps Raiders trained operatives for the Office of Strategic Services during World War II. The forerunner to the CIA, the OSS would conduct clandestine resistance, sabotage, and intelligence-gathering operations all over the world. One of those operatives was a member of UDT-10, an underwater demolition team, who would play a critical role in the recapture of the Philippines during the war, then help create the foundation of maritime special operations forces for the U.S. military and the intelligence community. That operative was a sailor named Hank Weldon and he died on Oct. 5, 2018 in his San Marcos, Calif. home. He was 95 years old.
“My point of view of the war is a little different than a lot of people,” he told the Valley Road Runner in 2013. “I let them [U.S. Marines] in and left. I didn’t see a lot of action on the ground. I went in and cleared the areas for the ships,” says Weldon. “Opened the lanes for them. Took care of mines. Or eliminated markers that the Japanese were using as markers for their artillery.”
That was just the beginning of a storied career in service to his country.
Born in 1923 and graduating from high school in 1942, Hank Weldon came of age at the outbreak of World War II. He played football at Villanova for two semester before joining a Navy commissioning program. It was while training for that program that General “Wild Bill” Donovan came looking to recruit strong swimmers for the OSS.
His swimming test involved pulling a manhole cover from the bottom of a pool and putting it in an empty canoe without tipping it. He passed. That’s when he was ordered to Camp Pendleton – but he had no idea what branch of the service he was actually in. The truth was, they were from all branches.
The OSS recruited men from the Coast Guard, Army, Navy, and Marines to come train with a Marine Raider battalion. When their training was complete, the unit was split up. Some were deployed to hit the beaches at Normandy, while Weldon and others prepared to hit the beaches of the occupied Philippine Islands.
Their trial by fire came when they were sent on the first underwater recon mission of World War II, gathering intelligence on the island of Yap. From there, they saw action at Palau and in five missions in the Philippines – but they didn’t lose a single man there. He even saw General MacArthur as he returned to the island nation, as promised.
When the war ended, so did Hank Weldon’s time in the military.
But his career in service didn’t stop. He spent 26 years as a beat cop on the Los Angeles Police Department and served during some of the most dangerous times in the force’s history. He served during the 1965 Watts Riots, a six-day civil disturbance that damaged million worth of property and was the most destructive urban uprising of the entire Civil Rights Era. It took a 45-mile exclusion zone enforced by 13,000 California National Guardsmen to quell the violence – with Hank Weldon riding and holding shotgun through it all.
Some 50 years after leaving the military and the OSS Maritime unit, he was inducted into the U.S. Army Special Forces – with good reason. He helped inaugurate the use of fins in maritime clandestine operations and pioneered tactical technology, including the first rebreathers. The tactics, weapons, and hand-to-hand combat techniques he and other OSS operative learned from the Marine Raiders were passed on to other operatives throughout the war and then handed down to new special operations units thereafter.
Members of the OSS were awarded the Congressional Gold Medal on March 21, 2018, and Hank Weldon was the surviving member of his OSS team, UDT-10. Weldon’s family turned down an invitation for Hank to be interred at Arlington National Cemetery. Instead, he will receive a military burial ceremony at home, in the Valley Center Cemetery in California.
Jimmie Lee Jackson was a 26-year-old Army veteran, civil rights activist, and deacon at his Marion, Alabama, church. In February, 1965, Jackson took part in a peaceful nighttime demonstration to protest for his right to vote. As the congregation left the church to march to the local jail just a half block away, a wall of local policer officers and state troopers was waiting for them. As soon as they arrived, someone turned off the streetlights.
In the aftermath of the melee that followed, Jimmie Lee Jackson was shot in the stomach by a state trooper. He died eight days later. His death was the catalyst for Martin Luther King to lead the march from Selma to Montgomery, and set in motion a chain of events, one that includes the infamous “Bloody Sunday” incident on the Edmund Pettis Bridge, that would change American culture forever.
By 1964, Jackson had become an ordained deacon of the St. James Baptist Church of Marion. At this point in his life, he had already joined the Army and saw service in Vietnam. After a short stint in Indiana, he returned to his hometown of Marion where he watched as his 80-year-old grandfather was turned away while trying to register to vote. He eventually joined the Southern Christian Leadership Conference to help fight for his civil rights.
Three years later, he died in that fight.
On the night of Feb. 18, 1965, there were 500 or so people filing out of Marion’s Zion United Methodist Church to make their way to the local jail where a civil rights activist was being held by local police. The SCLC was a nonviolent group, and the demonstrators planned to sing freedom songs as they marched to the jailhouse. They never made it that far. The wall of police officers — state, county, and local — began to tear into the crowd as soon as the lights went out.
They weren’t alone. Angry onlookers joined the crowd, attacking anyone in their path, including other onlookers, journalists, and even patrons of a nearby cafe. It was Mack’s Café just off the city square where state troopers started tearing the place apart, hitting customers and marchers. Lee’s grandfather, Cager, was clubbed, as was his mother, Viola. When Jimmie tried to help his mother to her feet, he was shot in the stomach by Alabama State Trooper James Fowler.
Lee languished in the hospital for eight days, eventually succumbing to his wound. Fowler was not initially charged with any crime, nor was he questioned about Lee. What happened next changed the country forever.
The SCLC decided they would march from Selma, Ala. to the capital at Montgomery to protest the death of Lee and the inequality of life in Alabama, to display their desire to vote, and to demonstrate the need for a Voting Rights Act to pass in Congress. In three attempts over 18 days, protestors attempted to march the 54-mile walk from Selma to Montgomery. The first attempt became infamous after it was attacked by police after crossing the Edmund Pettus Bridge.
One of the organizers became famous for a photo of her beaten body lying wounded on the bridge.
The second and third marches were joined by other activist groups and sympathizers from all over the United States who were horrified by the violence inflicted by the state troopers. Led by Dr. Martin Luther King, the second group of marchers turned around before fully crossing the bridge, so as not to violate a court order. The 2,500 people assembled said a prayer before turning back.
The third time, the procession was led by Dr. King with the First Amendment blessing of a federal judge. President Lyndon Johnson federalized the Alabama National Guard and ordered the soldiers to protect the marchers. They did and the procession made it all the way to the a camp site outside of Montgomery, adding more and more marchers along the way.
By the time they reached the state capitol building, the march was 25,000 strong. By August, 1965, President Johnson was signing the Voting Rights Act into law. Fowler, the trooper who shot Jimmie Lee Jackson, was finally convicted of manslaughter for the shooting in 2011.
If you look at the USS Constitution today, berthed at the Boston Navy Yard, you might find yourself wondering how a wooden ship got the nickname, “Old Ironsides.” The answer to that question is actually very simple: Cannonballs used to literally bounce off the hull of the Constitution in battle, falling harmlessly into the sea below.
The Constitution is currently the oldest active ship in the US Navy today. Launched in 1797, it was one of the earliest ships to enter service with the fledgling Navy. Ordered as a heavy frigate as part of the Naval Act of 1794, the Constitution and five other similarly-configured ships were to be the backbone of the new Navy — heavy warships that other, smaller, ships could support and rally around.
Though slated to carry 44 guns (cannon of varying sizes), sailors often crammed more than 50 aboard the vessel when it put out to sea. Three masts, decked out with massive sails, would provide the propulsion needed to drive the nearly 1600-ton ship through the rough Atlantic waves.
It was during the War of 1812 that the Constitution earned her now-famous nickname, under the command of Isaac Hull. Well-liked and revered by those who served under him, Hull took it upon himself to personally ensure that the Constitution and her crew were ready for combat at all times. In mid-July, 1812, the heavy frigate encountered a small squadron of British ships, who gave chase. With a bit of planning and a little creativity, Hull managed to maneuver his ship away to safety.
The following month, the Constitution encountered one of those pursuing ships — the HMS Gurriere, commanded by James Dacres. This time, battle was inevitable and the two ships began trading blows. Hull quickly repositioned his ship, giving his gunners a clear view of the Gurriere.
Scrambling over the upper and the gun decks of both ships were sailors and Marines, frantically reloading their weapons for the next salvo. Aboard Constitution, sailors watched as 18-pound cannonballs whistled through the air, bracing for an impact that would certainly penetrate the walls of the ship, killing and maiming anybody in their way.
And then, nothing happened.
Though some of the cannonballs did inflict damage, others bounced off and fell into the roiling sea, much to the bewilderment of both sides. An American sailor notably yelled out, “Huzzah, her sides are made of iron!” and thus, the nickname, “Old Ironsides” was born.
A combination of different types of oak layered around each other made the ship’s surfaces dense and difficult to pierce. The multiple layers of wood absorbed the cannonballs’ impacts of the and dissipated the forces quickly. Extra ribbing and bracketing on the internal walls also contributed to making the Constitution so sturdy.
By the end of the battle, the Guerriere was beyond salvage, much to the disappointment of Hull. Broadside after broadside had done the frigate in. The British crew was taken aboard Constitution and salvage parties took what they could off the smoldering Royal Navy vessel before lighting it afire and setting the ship adrift to descend to its watery grave.
Old Ironsides sailed into Boston Harbor, packed with prisoners of war, as jubilant American sailors and Marines celebrated their triumphant return home. After doing battle with more British ships in the following years, Constitution was briefly laid up in mothballs while her future was decided by the Department of the Navy.
Amidst fears that the Constitution would be scrapped, having long outlived its original intended lifespan, public outcry spurred on by a poem written by Oliver Wendell Holmes, entitled Old Ironsides after the ship’s nickname. The powerful poem motivated the Navy to fund a refit and refurbishment of the battle-scarred frigate. The nickname has since stuck, even through the Constitution‘s years of obscurity in the late 1800s and early 1900s.
Hamilton, the phenomenal Broadway musical, landed on Disney’s streaming service, Disney+ on Friday. Here are 10 reasons why every service member and veteran should watch it.
1. It tells the story of an unlikely American Hero
How does a bastard, orphan, son of a whore And a Scotsman, dropped in the middle of a forgotten spot In the Caribbean by providence impoverished In squalor, grow up to be a hero and a scholar?
The ten-dollar founding father without a father Got a lot farther by working a lot harder By being a lot smarter By being a self-starter By fourteen, they placed him in charge of a trading charter
(Song: Alexander Hamilton)
The opening lyrics to the now legendary Broadway musical call out to all history buffs, patriotic Americans, hip-hop fans and lovers of culture and just takes off from there.
When Lin-Manuel Miranda first floated the idea of doing a hip-hop concept album about Alexander Hamilton, people scoffed. There is even a famous video of him performing the opening (and only song at that point) at the White House for President Barack Obama. Everyone laughs, but by the end he got a standing ovation.
Lin-Manuel Miranda Performs at the White House Poetry Jam: (8 of 8)
Miranda likened Hamilton to a hip-hop artist. A young man who came from an impoverished background and worked his way to the top. Growing up in the Caribbean, he worked his way off the British West Indies and ended up in New York City.
2. If you love American history, you will love Hamilton
Raise a glass to freedom
Something they can never take away No matter what they tell you Raise a glass to the four of us
Tomorrow there’ll be more of us
Telling the story of tonight
(Song: The Story of Tonight)
The play starts off while America is in the throes of Revolutionary fervor. Hamilton meets several men that will be his brothers during the Revolution (Aaron Burr, Marquis de Lafayette, John Lawrence and Hercules Mulligan). He also meets the women that will shape his life (Eliza, Angelica…. And Peggy)
The songs that follow take us on the journey that Americans felt while championing for their rights to be free.
3. You like to poke fun at the British
Oceans rise, empires fall
We have seen each other through it all And when push comes to shove I will send a fully armed battalion to remind you of my love!
(Song: You’ll Be Back)
Yeah, there are a lot of jokes at England’s expense, especially the Monarch we despise; King George III. Hamilton makes him a fool instead of a villain, a king from afar that is very out of touch with his colonies. He comes off like a bad boyfriend and just to make sure we know the English are different; he sings his songs in a Beatles-like style.
4. It’s got a great love story
So, so, so So this is what it feels like To match wits with someone at your level What the hell is the catch? It’s the feeling of freedom Of seein’ the light It’s Ben Franklin with a key and a kite! You see it, right?
Hamilton takes on its namesake’s love story by being as honest as possible. His love for his wife Eliza, his connection with her sister Angelica and his affair with Maria Reynolds. That affair was one of the first political scandals in the young United States’ history and would be pivotal in shaping Hamilton’s career and his marriage to Eliza.
5. We win our independence
We negotiate the terms of surrender.
I see George Washington smile. We escort their men out of Yorktown. They stagger home single file. Tens of thousands of people flood the streets. There are screams and church bells ringing. And as our fallen foes retreat I hear the drinking song they’re singing
The world turned upside down
(Song: Yorktown – The World Turned Upside Down)
The play’s most thrilling moment is the Battle of Yorktown. Hamilton and his buddies rally together and beat the British, under the leadership of General George Washington. The thrill of victory and, later King George’s agony of defeat, make this such an amazing moment.
6. You love politics
Life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness
We fought for these ideals we shouldn’t settle for less These are wise words, enterprising men quote ’em Don’t act surprised, you guys, ’cause I wrote ’em (ow)
(Song: Cabinet Battle #1)
In the second act, we meet two of the men that would be a thorn in Hamilton’s side as a new country finds its footing. Thomas Jefferson and James Madison make their appearance and Miranda famously portrays their bitter Cabinet arguments as rap battles. Nothing like learning about big government vs small government with two men spitting lyrics at each other.
7. If you want to know why our country is set up the way it is
No one else was in
The room where it happened The room where it happened The room where it happened
In God we trust But we’ll never really know what got discussed Click-boom then it happened
And no one else was in the room where it happened
(Song: The Room Where it Happened)
Ever wonder why we had a strong central bank? Ever wonder why Washington D.C. ended up being the capitol instead of New York? Ever wonder who made those decisions? Hamilton does an amazing job of bringing up political intrigue and quid pro quo. Hamilton has a closed-door meeting with Jefferson and Madison to discuss how the country should be organized. The event spurs Hamilton’s acquaintance Aaron Burr to seek more political power as he now wants to be “In the room where it happens”.
8. It has heartbreak
There are moments that the words don’t reach
There is suffering too terrible to name You hold your child as tight as you can And push away the unimaginable The moments when you’re in so deep It feels easier to just swim down
(Song: It’s Quiet Uptown)
In a precursor to his own fate, Hamilton deals with the death of his son Philip who dies after a duel while defending his father’s reputation. Hamilton and his wife (who were on the rocks after his affair) find solace with each other as they grieve for their son together.
9. It has duels
It’s the Ten Duel Commandments Number one
The challenge, demand satisfaction If they apologize, no need for further action
If they don’t, grab a friend, that’s your second
Your lieutenant when there’s reckoning to be reckoned
Number three Have your seconds meet face to face
Negotiate a peace
Or negotiate a time and place
This is commonplace, ‘specially ‘tween recruits
Most disputes die, and no one shoots
(Song: The Ten Duel Commandments)
Of course, you know that Alexander Hamilton, our first Secretary of the Treasury, and Aaron Burr, a Vice President under Thomas Jefferson, have a duel which results in Hamilton’s untimely death. Can you imagine if Timothy Geithner dueled with Dick Cheney? Yeah, crazy times back then. Miranda, over the course of the whole play builds up the relationship with Burr and Hamilton from their days pre-Revolution to political rivals. Unfair of not, it makes Hamilton to be Mozart while Burr is his Salieri. It comes to a head on that fateful day in New Jersey.
10. It is our story and we shouldn’t forget it
I’ll give him this: his financial system is a work of genius I couldn’t undo it if I tried And I’ve tried
Who lives, who dies, who tells your story?
President Madison: He took our country from bankruptcy to prosperity I hate to admit it But he doesn’t get enough credit for all the credit he gave us
(Song: Who lives, Who dies, Who Tells Your Story)
Before the play Hamilton came out, there was actually a movement to replace Hamilton on the bill as many didn’t know the impact he had on our country’s foundation. That plan was scrapped after the play was released as Miranda did bring awareness to the complexities of our Founding Fathers. They weren’t perfect, they weren’t without sin and they were perfectly human. But when you hear their words, you find that regardless of your background, political beliefs, race, religion, gender or sexual orientation, you have a lot in common with the men that founded the United States. There is a reason why many younger people have been inspired by the musical.
Check it out on Disney+ and let us know what you think!
The invasion of Iwo Jima was one of the most costly battles in the Pacific in World War II, largely because the aerial bombings and naval artillery bombardments that preceded the invasion failed to do serious damage to the 22,000 Japanese troops or their network of 1,500 bunkers and reinforced rooms carved into the island.
The Marines were forced to fight bitterly for nearly every yard of the island, and Japanese defenders emerged from hidden caves and bunkers at night to kidnap, torture, and kill American invaders.
Modern Marines would enjoy two big advantages that their predecessors lacked — night vision devices, including thermal and infrared technologies and bunker-busting weapons like thermobaric warheads. Other modern advances like counter-fire radar would play a role as well.
When the invasions first hit the beaches in 1945, the Japanese defenders refused to heavily contest the landings. Instead, they huddled in their miles of tunnels and waited for the Marines to come to them across minefields or to group up where mortars and artillery could kill many Americans in one hit.
Harriers and Hornets launching from amphibious assault ships could then hit these positions with guided bombs. Destroying the weapons would require accurate hits, but that’s sort of the point of precision weapons. And, if the Marine pilots brought along their F-35Bs, they could potentially carry the high velocity penetrating weapon, a bunker buster small enough to be carried on a smaller jet.
Meanwhile, the infantry Marines would find themselves with more options than their World War II counterparts. While the flamethrower — which was so important at Iwo Jima — is now a thing of the past, thermobaric rounds for the SMAW and other missiles would make up the difference.
The SMAW-Novel Explosive warhead is fired through an opening or thin wall of a a cave, building, or bunker and disperses a metal cloud that is then ignited, causing a large explosion that overpressurizes the area, killing or severely wounding everyone inside.
And other missiles like the TOW and Javelin are no slouches against bunkers.
With the Marines capable of destroying bunkers anytime the Japanese compromise their camouflage by firing from them, the defenders would fall back to their other major tactic on Iwo Jima, creeping out under cover of night to hit the Americans.
But this would go even worse for them. While night vision was in its infancy in 1945, modern systems can amplify ambient light (what’s typically happening in green-tinted night devices), detect infrared energy (black and white night vision), or provide a detailed thermal map (blue, green, orange, yellow, and red vision). Any of these night optics would be able to see Japanese troops.
Aviation assets with infrared and light-amplifying devices could watch any defenders crawling from their bunkers and either hit them or report their locations to infantry and artillery units. The infantrymen could strongpoint their camps with vehicle and tripod mounted machine guns and missile systems with night optics.
Between the two, the Marines would enjoy a massive advantage in night fighting. Even if the defenders had their own systems, the 2017 Marines would be in a better position than their 1945 counterparts since in 1945 the Japanese were able to own the night. In 2017, they would be evenly matched at worst.
With the shift in power with modern technology, the Marines might even take Iwo Jima while inflicting greater casualties than they suffered. As it was, the Iwo Jima invasion was the only major engagement in World War II where they didn’t inflict more casualties than they suffered.
The military has traditionally been the most progressive institution in the United States. In 1948, long before the Civil Rights Movement swept America, the U.S. military had already begun to integrate. But that doesn’t mean the changes came quick or easy, especially for Wesley A. Brown, the first African-American to graduate from the Naval Academy in Annapolis.
Brown started classes at the academy in 1945, three years before President Truman ordered the military to stop separating black and white troops. Five men came before Brown as Midshipmen and were chased out of the academy altogether. Brown was the first to make it to graduation day – and he did it with a flourish.
Brown was a Washington, D.C. native who grew up as a voracious reader, and was particularly interested in the history and heritage of African-Americans in the United States. He would work after school as a mailman at the Navy Department before he was nominated to attend the Naval Academy by New York Congressman Adam Clayton Powell, Jr. Life at Annapolis was hard at first. Many did not accept him, and he was loaded down with undeserved demerits that almost found him drummed out.
“I get asked that question often, ‘Did you ever think about quitting?'” Brown said in a 2005 Baltimore Sun interview. “And I say, ‘Every single day.’ When I came to the academy I learned that there were all kinds of prejudices against Jews, Catholics, even the Irish and I looked around and thought that these prejudices were instilled in them by their families, and they could not be blamed for feeling the way they did.”
But he persevered and actually found that many more of his fellow Mids supported him. One of his most ardent supporters was a fellow track teammate, the son of a Georgia peanut farmer named Jimmy Carter.
Brown (right) at the dedication of the USNA Field House that would bear his name.
Brown graduated from the Naval Academy in 1949 joining the Navy’s civil engineering corps. He created infrastructure in the Navy’s most important postings from the Philippines and Hawaii to Cuba, and even Antarctica. For 20 years, Brown was an important officer in the service, even seeing action in Korea and Vietnam. He retired in 1969 and became a faculty member at Howard University, in his hometown of Washington, D.C.
The Seabee retired with the rank of Lieutenant Commander.
To honor his achievements and his history as a USNA athlete, the academy dedicated its newest athletic facility in 2008 as the Wesley A. Brown Field House. Brown was on hand at the ceremony to mark the construction of the facility that would bear his name, decades after racism and prejudice nearly cost him his illustrious career. Brown died in 2012.
Luftwaffe navigators flying over 1940s England had few tools to ensure their bombs were striking the right bases and cities. They used maps, compasses, airspeed indicators, and aerial photographs to try and find their assigned targets.
Apparently, the British capitalized on this by building fake cities and airstrips to confuse the bomber crews. The effort was commanded by former British Royal Engineer Col. John Turner who employed set designers from movie studios to create the decoys.
By 1940 the Royal Air Force had already dispersed some of their planes to satellite stations, sparse outposts that hosted a dozen fighters or less with small ammo and fuel dumps. Turner and his men started by creating fake version of these satellite stations. The fake versions were positioned so attacking bombers would reach the decoy station before the real station and hopefully become confused.
Turner’s men would build a fake runway and park about 10 fake airplanes at it. A group of men were assigned to move the aircraft around every day and repair any damage done by enemy bombs. To really sell the ruse to any German spies who might be watching, RAF planes or other aircraft were sometimes sent to land at the fake stations.
After success with the satellite stations, orders for simulated aircraft manufacturing plants provided a greater challenge for the team. Full-size decoys were constructed, complete with cars in the lot. During bombing runs the men would set fires in sections of the fake factory to simulate damage, but they were crafted to be easily put out once the bombers left.
In 1940 and 1941, the British government decided to protect full cities using the decoys. The team knew they couldn’t construct an entire city, but they also knew the Germans were mostly limited to night missions. So, the team came up with a series of scaffolds and lights that looked at night like a city with poor light discipline. It gave the appearance of open doors and unshaded skylights, glowing furnaces, and train depots.
Like the decoy factories, the “cities” were rigged for simulated fires and explosions. The first wave of a German bombing raid was allowed to pass without any fireworks, but diesel fuel and paraffin wax would be dumped onto burning coals ahead of the second wave. The goal was to convince the second wave that the first had found the target and that this burning “town” was it. The second and follow-on waves would then focus on the decoy.
Throughout history, bridges have been one of the most targeted structures on the battlefield, as opposing forces do everything in their power to blow them up and cut off incoming supply lines.
After a bridge is destroyed, a new one needs to be established, or occupying forces can risk losing their resupply sources permanently.
In World War II, Japanese, Italians, and German armies used explosive motorboats as a technique to take down allied bridges. Enemy troops in scuba gear would point these motorboats in the direction of the bridge’s supporting structures and bail out right before the vessel strikes and detonates.
The explosive motorboats in action. (Images via Giphy)Because of the effectiveness of the explosive motorboats, allied forces needed to create a portable bridge that could be quickly set up and could handle the massive stress of getting blown up.
The resolution came from an unlikely source — the mind of a British civil servant named Donald Bailey.
While returning home after working at an experimental bridge, an idea popped into Bailey’s mind. He began sketching out the new architectural idea on the back of an envelope — something that later became the “Bailey Bridge.”
This new creation could support large armored tanks across 200 feet of water and set up quickly just by using some wrenches and a few engineers.
“The Bailey bridge is a very fabricated bridge, and it can be broken down into parts, trucked to a site, and then reassembled in a big hurry,” military historian William Atwater explains.
After being successfully set up under fire during the Battle of Monte Cassino in Italy, President Dwight D. Eisenhower reportedly claimed the bridge was one of the pieces of equipment that most contributed to the victory in Europe.
Check out Lightning War 1941’s video below to see how this quickly fabricated bridge helped change the course of the war.
North Korea and the United States don’t have a lot in common. What they do share is a need for gathering intelligence — typically about each other. While the United States’ intelligence agencies might have a difficult time penetrating the North’s rigid class system and meticulous tracking of its citizens, the Hermit Kingdom can exploit the open societies of the West to plant its operatives – and it does.
Kim Hyon-hui was one of those operatives. The daughter of a high-level North Korean diplomat during the Cold War, she trained rigorously in the North as an intelligence operative. She went on a number of missions, including the infamous 1987 bombing of Korean Airlines flight 858, which was personally ordered by President Kim Il-Sung to frighten teams from attending the 1988 Seoul Olympics. Much of her training would not surprise anyone, but some of it might.
There’s a special school for North Korea’s spy agents, located outside the capital city of Pyongyang. There, they learn the usual spy stuff we’ve all come to expect from watching movies and television: explosives, martial arts, and scuba diving. What’s most unusual is not just that this school also teaches its agents Japanese, but who teaches it to them.
For the longest time, North Korea denied ever having abducted Japanese citizens for any reason. But a number of defectors, including the captured spy, Kim Hyon-hui, described learning Japanese from a native speaker, Yaeko Taguchi. North Korea has been accused of abducting a number of Japanese citizens to put them to work for similar reasons. The North’s disdain for Japan dates back to World War II, owing to the atrocities committed on Koreans by Japanese troops. North Koreans like Japan as much as they like the United States. Maybe less.
It may or may not surprise you to learn that North Korean grocery stores are very much unlike any Western grocery stores. Most of the time, North Koreans don’t actually go to supermarkets, no matter how much food is available to them. North Korea doesn’t have supermarkets as we know them.
The idea of using plastic instead of hard currency was a huge surprise to Kim. She had to be trained not just to use a credit card, but how credit cards work in general, considering much of the technology used to create this system of payment wasn’t available to North Korea back then (and still isn’t, but that’s by choice).
The nightlife of North Korea seems like something from the pre-sexual revolution 1960s. While beer and soju are widely consumed in Pyongyang, even in the capital there are no obvious bars or nightclubs. Many North Koreans spend their evenings with their families at the dinner table or by going to concerts and family fun parks, small carnivals that stay in the same place all the time. To go to a European disco and party like a Westerner required training.
US Coast Guard Training Center Cape May is where the Coast Guard enlisted corps call home. It is also the only place in the entire Coast Guard where enlisted men and women can train for this Military branch. To put it another way, can’t enter the Coast Guard without passing through Cape May. For this reason, Cape May, New Jersey is considered to be the original home of the Coast Guard. Currently, it is the Coast Guard’s fifth-largest base.
Eight weeks of physical and mental intensity coming right up
The eight-week boot camp at Cape May is nothing short of intense. The core of the training includes search-and-rescue, law enforcement, and national defense, though it covers things like navigation and environment protection as well. In total, the Cape May boot camp includes 11 statutory missions, divided between classroom instruction and practical training.
The practical training provides necessary hands-on experience to ensure recruits fully know what they are getting into when they become “Coasties.” For instance, they must undergo firefighter training, where they experience a simulated fire. They also have to swim 100 meters in either front crawl, sidestroke, or breaststroke and tread water for five minutes.
Pass or fail, there is no in between
If trainees don’t pass both the written and physical tests, they don’t graduate to become Coasties. And here’s a scary statistic about Camp May: an astounding one in five recruits do not graduate. Some of them are dismissed for not passing, while others ask to dis-enroll. The sheer amount of responsibility and discipline it takes to be a member of the Coast Guard isn’t for everyone, clearly.
If you’re looking for a break, Coast Guard training is not for you
The mess hall where recruits eat during their training might seem like a place where they can relax a bit, but the opposite is true. Recruits say mealtimes bring on some of the greatest pressure, as they endure lots of screaming. But why in the mess hall, you ask? It’s all part of the mental challenges young recruits are up against.
The level of intensity of both the physical and mental challenges at Camp May are meant to prepare recruits for the life-or-death situations they will likely come up against as Coast Guards in the real world. Recruits need to be able to operate quickly and effectively as a team under stress. If they can’t do that, they have no place in the branch. After all, no one calls the Coast Guard on good days.
In the mid-1990s, U.S. oil company Unocal attempted to secure a gas-pipeline deal with the Taliban, which had seized control of the Afghan capital, Kabul, after a devastating civil war.
It was the United States’ first attempt to forge a partnership with the fundamentalist Taliban regime, which was not recognized by the international community.
Unocal even flew senior Taliban members to Texas in 1997 in an attempt to come to an agreement.
Zalmay Khalilzad, who had served as a State Department official when Ronald Reagan was president, worked as a consultant for the now-defunct company.
Khalilzad, who met with the Taliban members in the city of Houston, publicly voiced support for the radical Islamists at the time. The “Taliban does not practice the anti-U.S. style of fundamentalism practiced by Iran — it is closer to the Saudi model,” Khalilzad wrote in a 1996 op-ed for The Washington Post. “The group upholds a mix of traditional Pashtun values and an orthodox interpretation of Islam.”
Negotiations over the pipeline collapsed in 1998, when Al-Qaeda bombed two U.S. embassies in Africa. By then, the terrorist group, led by Osama bin Laden, had relocated from Sudan to Afghanistan, where it was offered safe harbor by the Taliban.
Suddenly, the Taliban went from a potential U.S. economic partner to an international pariah that was hit by U.S. sanctions and air strikes.
Three years later, the United States invaded Afghanistan and toppled the Taliban regime after Al-Qaeda carried out the September 11, 2001, terrorist attacks in New York City, Washington, D.C., and Pennsylvania that killed nearly 3,000 people.
But now, after waging a deadly, nearly 19-year insurgency that has killed several thousand U.S. troops, the Taliban has regained its status as a potential U.S. partner.
On February 29, the United States and the Taliban signed an agreement aimed at ending the United States’ longest military action. The deal lays out a timetable for the withdrawal of U.S. troops from Afghanistan in return for various security commitments from the insurgents and a pledge to hold talks over a political settlement with the Afghan government — which it so far has refused to do.
The deal — signed before a bevy of international officials and diplomats in Doha, Qatar — has given the Taliban what it has craved for years: international legitimacy and recognition.
Meanwhile, the agreement has undermined the internationally recognized government in Kabul, which was not a party to the accord.
The architect of the deal was Khalilzad, the U.S. special peace envoy for Afghanistan, who secured a deal following 18 months of grueling negotiations with the militants in Qatar. The Afghan-born Khalilzad had served as the U.S. ambassador to Afghanistan and Iraq in the intervening years since working as a Unocal adviser.
“There’s a 20-year bell curve, from 1998 to 2018, when the Taliban went from partner to peak pariah and now back to partner,” says Ted Callahan, a security expert on Afghanistan. But the “changes that have occurred have been less within the Taliban movement and more based on U.S. instrumentalism and war fatigue.”
The extremist group’s transformation to a potential U.S. ally was considered unthinkable until recently.
During its brutal rule from 1996 to 2001, the Taliban oppressed women, massacred ethnic and religious minorities, and harbored Al-Qaeda.
Since the U.S.-led invasion in 2001, the Taliban has killed tens of thousands of Afghan civilians, fueled the illicit opium trade, and sheltered several terrorist groups.
“U.S. officials are selling the Taliban as a partner when it is anything but,” says Bill Roggio, a senior fellow at a Washington-based think tank, the Foundation for Defense Of Democracies, and editor of the Long War Journal. “This is a fiction made up by U.S. officials who are desperate for a deal that will cover the military withdrawal from Afghanistan.”
Radicalized In Pakistan
The Taliban, which means “students” in Pashto, emerged in 1994 in northwestern Pakistan following the end of the Soviet occupation of Afghanistan.
The predominantly ethnic Pashtun group first appeared in ultraconservative Islamic madrasahs, or religious schools, in Pakistan, where millions of Afghans had fled as refugees. Funded by Saudi Arabia, the madrasahs radicalized thousands of Afghans who joined the mujahedin, the U.S.-backed Islamist rebels who fought the Soviets.
The Taliban first appeared in the southern city of Kandahar, Afghanistan’s second-largest city, in 1994, two years after the mujahedin seized power in the country. Infighting among mujahedin factions fueled a devastating civil war that killed more than 100,000 people in Kabul.
The Taliban promised to restore security and enforce its ultraconservative brand of Islam. It captured Kabul in 1996 and two years later controlled some 90 percent of the country.
Neighboring Pakistan is widely credited with forming the Taliban, an allegation it has long denied. Islamabad was among only three countries — including Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates — to recognize the Taliban regime when it ruled Afghanistan.
The Taliban was led by its spiritual leader, Mullah Mohammad Omar, the reclusive, one-eyed cleric who was a mujahedin. Omar died of natural causes at a hospital in Pakistan in 2013, with the group’s leadership covering up his death for two years. He was believed to be leading the Afghan Taliban insurgency from within Pakistan.
War-weary Afghans initially welcomed the Taliban, which cracked down on corruption and lawlessness and brought stability across much of the country.
But the welcome was short-lived. The religious zealots enforced strict edicts based on their extreme interpretation of Shari’a law — banning TV and music, forcing men to pray and grow beards, making women cover themselves from head to toe, and preventing women and girls from working or going to school.
The Taliban amputated the hands of thieves, publicly flogged people for drinking alcohol, and stoned to death those who engage in adultery. Executions were common.
Besides its notorious treatment of women, the Taliban also attracted international condemnation when in 2001 it demolished the 1,500-year-old Buddhas of Bamiyan, in central Afghanistan, a testament to the country’s pre-Islamic history and a treasured, unique world cultural monument.
‘We Were All Scared’
Orzala Nemat is a leading women’s rights activist in Afghanistan. Under Taliban rule, she risked her life by creating a network of underground girls schools across the country. Classes were held secretly in living rooms, tents, and abandoned buildings. The teachers were often older girls or educated women.
Girls attending the classes would often come in twos to avoid suspicion and carry a Koran, Islam’s holy book, in case they were stopped by the Taliban.
“We were all scared,” says Nemat, who now heads a leading Kabul think tank. “They would probably flog us, put us in prison, and punish us [if we were caught].”
Under the Taliban, Isaq Ahmadi earned a living by playing soccer for one of the dozen teams created and funded by various Taliban leaders in Kabul. While the Taliban banned many sports and other forms of public entertainment, soccer and cricket thrived.
“It was a very difficult and dark time,” he says. “There were no jobs, food shortages, and no public services.”
During Taliban rule, the United Nations said 7.5 million Afghans faced starvation. Even then, the Taliban restricted the presence of aid groups in Afghanistan.
The Taliban regime generated most of its money from Islamic taxes on citizens and handouts from Pakistan, Saudi Arabia, and the United Arab Emirates, its only allies. The Taliban failed to provide basic needs and Kabul lay in tatters after the brutal civil war of 1992-96.
The Taliban attracted the world’s attention after the September 11 attacks on the United States. The regime had harbored bin Laden and other Al-Qaeda leaders responsible for the terrorist attacks. But the Taliban steadfastly refused to hand over Al-Qaeda leaders for prosecution and, in October 2001, the United States invaded Afghanistan.
By December, the Taliban regime was toppled with help from the anti-Taliban Northern Alliance. Most Taliban leaders, including Al-Qaeda founder bin Laden, evaded capture and resettled in Pakistan’s tribal areas and the southwestern city of Quetta, where its leadership is still based.
By 2005, the Taliban had reorganized and unleashed a deadly insurgency against foreign troops and the new democratically elected government in Kabul. Despite U.S.-led surges in troops and an escalation in air strikes, international and Afghan forces were unable to stop the Taliban from extending its influence in the vast countryside.
The Taliban enjoyed safe havens and backing from Pakistan, a claim Islamabad has denied. The insurgency was also funded by the billions of dollars the group made from the illicit opium trade.
Today, the militants control or contest more territory — around half of the country — than at any other time since 2001.
Meanwhile, the Kabul government is unpopular, corrupt, bitterly divided, and heavily dependent on foreign assistance. Government forces have suffered devastatingly high numbers of casualties against the Taliban.
Negotiating An End To War
In the fall of 2010, U.S. officials secretly met a young Taliban representative outside the southern German city of Munich. It was the first time the Taliban and the United States showed they were open to talks over a negotiated end to the war.
But in the intervening years, meaningful U.S.-Taliban talks failed to take off, hampered by mutual distrust, missed opportunities, protests by the Afghan government, and the deaths of two successive Taliban leaders.
For years, U.S. policy was to facilitate an Afghan-led, Afghan-owned peace process between the Kabul government and the Taliban. But with the Taliban refusing to negotiate with state officials — whom they view as illegitimate — the peace process was deadlocked.
Controversially, U.S. policy changed in 2018 when Khalilzad was appointed as special envoy for peace and he opened direct negotiations with the Taliban in Qatar without the presence of the Afghan government. Eighteen months later, the sides signed the landmark deal aimed at ending the war.
“The U.S. has been sidelining the Afghan government for years, first by refusing to allow it to be involved with negotiations, then by signing the deal without the Afghan government as a partner,” Roggio says.
“The Taliban maintains the Afghan government is merely a ‘puppet’ of the U.S,” he adds. “The U.S. has done everything in its power to prove this point.”
Road Map For Afghanistan
The prospect of the Taliban returning to the fold as part of a future power-sharing agreement has fueled angst among Afghans, many of whom consider the militants to be terrorists and remember the strict, backward societal rules they enforced when they were in power.
More than 85 percent of Afghans have no sympathy for the Taliban, according to the Asia Foundation’s 2019 survey. Urban respondents (88.6 percent) were more inclined than rural respondents (83.9 percent) to have no sympathy for the militants.
But the Taliban’s adherence to ultraconservative Islam and the Pashtun tribal code has struck a chord with some currently living under the movement’s thumb in rural Afghanistan, which has borne the brunt of the war and where life has improved little. But those ideas are largely alien in major urban centers that have witnessed major social, economic, and democratic gains over the past 18 years.
“The main difference is that the Taliban of today, like Afghans generally, are more worldly in terms of their exposure to media, their increased engagement with various international actors and, at least for the leadership, the greater wealth they command, both individually and as a movement,” Callahan says.
But the Taliban’s “fundamental approach to governing, which is very maximalist and involves the imposition of a uniform moral order, stands in stark contrast to the more liberal norms that have evolved since 2001, mainly in urban areas.”
Since the fall of the Taliban in 2001, millions of girls have gone to school and continue to study, women have joined the workforce in meaningful numbers, and dozens of women are members of parliament and work in the government or diplomatic corps.
Afghanistan also has a thriving independent media scene in an area of the world where press freedoms are severely limited. Under the Taliban, all forms of independently reported news were banned.
There was only state-owned radio, the Taliban’s Voice of Sharia, which was dominated by calls to prayer and religious teachings.
The independent media have come under constant attack and pressure from the Taliban and Islamic State militants, which have killed dozens of reporters. The attacks have made Afghanistan one of the deadliest countries in the world for journalists.
The Taliban has been projecting itself as a more moderate force, pledging not to monopolize power in Afghanistan. But few believe that the militants have changed.
“There is little difference between the Taliban of 1994 and the Taliban of today,” Roggio says. “If anything, the group has become more sophisticated in its communications and negotiations. Its ideology has not changed. Its leadership has naturally changed with the deaths of its leaders [over the years], but this hasn’t changed how it operates.”
The Taliban has said it will protect women’s rights, but only if they don’t violate Islam or Afghan values, suggesting it will curtail some of the fragile freedoms gained by women in the past two decades.
Many Afghan women fear that their rights enshrined in the constitution will be given away as part of a peace settlement with the Taliban. The constitution guarantees the same rights to women as men, although in practice women still face heavy discrimination in society, particularly in rural areas.
But the Taliban has demanded a new constitution based on “Islamic principles,” prompting concern among Afghan rights campaigners. As an Islamic republic, Afghanistan’s laws and constitution are based on Islam, although there are more liberal and democratic elements within it.
Farahnaz Forotan launched an online campaign, #MyRedLine, in March 2018. Hundreds of thousands of Afghan women have joined the campaign to speak about the freedoms and rights they are not willing to give up in the name of peace with the Taliban.
Forotan, a journalist, says she wanted to let Afghan decision-makers know that peace cannot be achieved at the expense of the rights and freedoms of the country’s women.
“Almost everything has changed from that time,” she says, referring to Taliban rule. “We have made a lot of progress. We have a civil society, an independent press, and freedoms. People are more aware of their social and political rights.”
Many Afghans support a negotiated end to the decades-old war in Afghanistan, but not at any price.
“I support the peace process with the Taliban, but only if women’s freedoms are safeguarded,” says Ekram, a high-school student from the northern city of Mazar-e Sharif, a relatively peaceful and prosperous region near the border with Tajikistan, Uzbekistan, and Turkmenistan.
“Under no circumstances do we want a peace deal that sacrifices our freedoms and democracy,” Ekram says. “That wouldn’t be peace at all.”
The keen-eyed viewer may have noticed Tyrone “Rone” Woods, played by James Badge Dale, sporting a Rolex Submariner 116610 in Michael Bay’s 2016 film 13 Hours: The Secret Soldiers of Benghazi. Some may write this appearance off as a Hollywood product placement by Bay, a known Rolex fan. However, the watch actually shows great attention to detail in Rone’s story and is an integral part of Navy SEAL history.
Rone’s Submariner is identifiable by its iconic cyclops magnifier (Paramount Pictures)
Rolex introduced the Submariner watch in 1954. While the watch has evolved into a luxury item that broadcasts wealth and success today, it was originally designed as a rugged, no-nonsense tool watch that professional divers could depend on. Its uni-directional rotating bezel allowed them to time their dives, its robust and accurate movement meant that it could keep good time in an age before battery-powered quartz timepieces, and its water-resistance rating of 660 feet meant that it could do all of this at the depths that professional divers operate at.
In 1962, the first two Navy SEAL teams were formed and they quickly adopted the Submariner as their dive watch. Tudor, Rolex’s more affordable sister brand (think Chevrolet to Cadillac), also made Submariners which were issued to the Navy’s elite warriors. By 1967, Rolex had picked up on the professional military application of their watches and utilized it in a magazine advertisement saying, “For years, it’s been standard gear for submariners, frogmen, and all who make their living on the seas.”
In 1967, a Rolex Submariner cost 0, or about id=”listicle-2648518781″,600 in today’s money (Rolex)
The Submariner, in both its Rolex and Tudor forms, was so ingrained in Navy SEAL culture and essential to their specialized missions, that it became standard issue. One Vietnam veteran recalled in an interview, “During the training in BUD/S we were issued our Tudor watches, black face for enlisted and blue faced for officers, and these went with us to our next duty station.” Indeed, the SEALs took their issued Submariners with them to the jungles of Vietnam. Like other servicemembers who purchased their own Submariners, the SEALs valued the watch for its ruggedness, dependability, and accuracy.
U.S. Navy SEALs Harry Humphries and Fran Scollise wearing their issued Submariners in Vietnam (Rolex Magazine)
In the decades after Vietnam, the advent of battery-powered dive computers and the evolution of Rolex into an expensive luxury brand caused the Navy to cease its issuance of Submariners to the SEALs. Today, however, some Navy SEALs still maintain the elite organization’s relationship with Rolex on their own dime. While Rone did not wear a Rolex Submariner 116610 as depicted in 13 Hours, he did wear a Rolex Sea-Dweller 16660, a more robust descendant of the Submariner with a greater water-resistance rating.
Rone wearing his Sea-Dweller (Cheryl Croft Bennett)
Before he joined the CIA’s Global Response Staff in 2010, Rone posted on RolexForums.com looking for a shop in the San Diego area where he could sell his Rolex Sea-Dweller and Panerai Luminor (the Italian Navy’s original issued dive watch). Although his post received no replies, the thread has since become a tribute to the late operator since his death in Benghazi in 2012.
Rone’s first and only post on the forum (RolexForums)
Though the fate of Rone’s Sea-Dweller is unknown, the fact that he is shown wearing a Rolex in 13 Hours is a testament to the care and attention to detail that Bay put in to depicting him and the other Americans in Benghazi during the 2012 attack.
How much could a Marine Corps fighter cost? That was probably one of the questions running through 21-year-old Lance Cpl. Howard Foote’s mind as the enlisted flight mechanic climbed into an unarmed A4M Skyhawk in the middle of a July night.
In case you were wondering, the cost is roughly $18 million. Rather, that was the cost back in 1984, when Foote stole one of them from Marine Corps Air Station El Toro. Today, that would be the equivalent of $41 million, adjusted for inflation.
Sentries tried to stop Foote as he taxied the aircraft for takeoff, but they just couldn’t get his attention.
“Foote joined the Marines to go the Corps’ Enlisted Commissioning Program, hoping to attend flight school,” Lt. Tim Hoyle, an El Toro public affairs officer, told the Los Angeles Times. “However, while flying at 42,500 feet in a glider he suffered an aerial embolism similar to the bends suffered by divers.”
The bends is the divers’ term for decompression sickness, where gasses in the body (like nitrogen in the compressed oxygen tanks used by divers) come out of the blood in bubbles because the body doesn’t have time to adjust to the pressure around it.
Flight school was not going to happen. Foote became a mechanic instead. Still, he had to realize his dream of going up at the helm of a fighter.
The young Marine drove up to the plane in a vehicle used to take pilots to their aircraft. He even wore a flight suit to dress the part.
He flew the fighter for 50 miles, roughly a half hour, doing loops and barrel rolls over the Pacific Ocean. He then landed it after making five passes of the runway.
No one tracked the plane. They didn’t send any other fighters to intercept it. Foote brought it back all on his own.
Foote was sent to the stockade at Camp Pendleton. He served four and a half months of confinement and was served an other-than-honorable discharge.
He tried to fly for Israel and for Honduras after his discharge. Foote later qualified as a test pilot in more than 20 different military and civilian aircraft, and became a contractor to NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory. He holds patents in aviation design and engineering technology.